This is a state of absolute inert sleep. If the method of Braid is used,
and a bright object is held quite near the eyes, and the eyes are fixed
upon it, the subject squints, the eyes become moist and bright, the look
fixed, and the pupils dilated. This is the cataleptic stage. If the
object is left before the eyes, lethargy is produced. There are also
many other ways of producing lethargy, as we have seen in the chapter
How to Hypnotize.
One of the marked characteristics of this stage of hypnotism is the
tendency of the muscles to contract, under the influence of the
slightest touch, friction, pressure or massage, or even that of a magnet
placed at a distance. The contraction disappears only by the repetition
of that identical means that called it into action. Dr. Courmelles gives
the following illustration:
If the forearm is rubbed a little above the palm of the hand, this
latter yields and bends at an acute angle. The subject may be suspended
by the hand, and the body will be held up without relaxation, that is,
without returning to the normal condition. To return to the normal
state, it suffices to rub the antagonistic muscles, or, in ordinary
terms, the part diametrically opposed to that which produced the
phenomenon; in this case, the forearm a little above the hands. It is
the same for any other part of the body.
The subject appears to be in a deep sleep, the eyes are either closed or
half closed, and the face is without expression. The body appears to be
in a state of complete collapse, the head is thrown back, and the arms
and legs hang loose, dropping heavily down. In this stage insensibility
is so complete that needles can be run into any part of the body without
producing pain, and surgical operations may be performed without the
slightest unpleasant effect.
This stage lasts usually but a short time, and the patient, under
ordinary conditions, will pass upward into the stage of catalepsy, in
which he opens his eyes. If the hypnotism is spontaneous, that is, if it
is due to a condition of the nervous organism which has produced it
without any outside aid, we have the condition of prolonged trance, of
which many cases have been reported. Until the discovery of hypnotism
these strange trances were little understood, and people were even
buried alive in them. A few instances reported by medical men will be
interesting. There is one reported in 1889 by a noted French physician.
There is at this moment in the hospital at Mulhouse a most interesting
case. A young girl twenty-two years of age has been asleep here for the
last twelve days. Her complexion is fresh and rosy, her breathing quite
normal, and her features unaltered.
No organ seems attacked; all the vital functions are performed as in
the waking state. She is fed with milk, broth and wine, which is given
her in a spoon. Her mouth even sometimes opens of itself at the contact
of the spoon, and she swallows without the slightest difficulty. At
other times the gullet remains inert.
The whole body is insensible. The forehead alone presents, under the
action of touch or of pricks, some reflex phenomena. However, by a
peculiarity, which is extremely interesting, she seems, by the intense
horror she shows for ether, to retain a certain amount of consciousness
and sensibility. If a drop of ether is put into her mouth her face
contracts and assumes an expression of disgust. At the same moment her
arms and legs are violently agitated, with the kind of impatient motion
that a child displays when made to swallow some hated dose of medicine.
In the intellectual relations the brain is not absolutely obscure, for
on her mother's coming to see her the subject's face became highly
colored, and tears appeared on the tips of her eyelashes, without,
however, in any other way disturbing her lethargy.
Nothing has yet been able to rouse her from this torpor, which will, no
doubt, naturally disappear at a given moment. She will then return to
conscious life as she quitted it. It is probable that she will not
retain any recollection of her present condition, that all notion of
time will fail her, and that she will fancy it is only the day following
her usual nightly slumber, a slumber which, in this case, has been
transformed into a lethargic sleep, without any rigidity of limbs or
Physically, the sleeper is of a middle size, slender, strong and
pretty, without distinctive characteristic. Mentally, she is lively,
industrious, sometimes whimsical, and subject to slight nervous
There is a pretty well-authenticated report of a young girl who, on May
30, 1883, after an intense fright, fell into a lethargic condition which
lasted for four years. Her parents were poor and ignorant, but, as the
fame of the case spread abroad, some physicians went to investigate it
in March, 1887. Her sleep had never been interrupted. On raising the
eyelids, the doctors found the eyes turned convulsively upward, but,
blowing upon them, produced no reflex movement of the lids. Her jaws
were closed tightly, and the attempt to open her mouth had broken off
some of the teeth level with the gums. The muscles contracted at the
least breath or touch, and the arms remained in position when uplifted.
The contraction of the muscles is a sign of the lethargic state, but the
arm, remaining in position, indicates the cataleptic state. The girl was
kept alive by liquid nourishment poured into her mouth.
There are on record a large number of cases of persons who have slept
for several months.